Thursday, 25 August 2011 09:09

Handling People, Including Insurance Adjusters, Means Negotiating Effectively

Written by Bob Spitz

by Bob Spitz—Management Success

I was talking with a fairly new shop owner the other day about the state of his business and the challenges of getting a new business off the ground. During the talk the subject of insurance adjusters came up.

This particular owner, like many in the business, has a passion for his art. He is a master painter and does beautiful work. Like many new operators, he has some body techs but he is still the one who does the painting. He has goals. He wants his shop to be the best collision shop in his market and I have no doubt that with his drive he might make it. The reason I say might is due to the fact that he is currently stuck working in the back and trying to run the business which includes writing his own estimates.

He is experiencing his first case of true stress and it is starting to manifest itself in the way he handles people. He looks at adjusters as an enemy who is there to drive him crazy and whittle down his profits to the point where he is not making any money.

I asked him if he provides a space for the adjuster to work while the adjuster is in his shop. His reply was instantaneous and filled with antagonism. “Why should I do that? He is not here to help me!” I knew immediately that he was looking at the adjuster as an adversary and not a potential ally.


I was not trying to find fault with him. He is a well trained and experienced painter with a lot of knowledge and talent in that area. His problem is that, he is not trained in the fine art of handling people, which as an owner is more important than his skills as a painter. As a result he is trying to handle the wrong problem in his business. Mishandling adjusters will not improve his bottom line!

I got him to calm down and take a look at what an adjuster does. How the adjuster plays the fine balancing act between the insurance company and the shop which has the customer’s interests as the priority. I got him to also look at that fact that he needs the adjusters’ help in accomplishing his goals and yelling at people and being belligerent is probably not the best way to win someone over.

I agreed with him that adjusters are not all sweethearts. Some are a real problem. They can be difficult and unreasonable. Maybe they just got chewed out by the owner of the last shop they were in. It doesn’t matter. You need this person to help you get what you need. Maybe just offering them a bottle of water and a place to sit down for a moment to talk about anything other than the business at hand would help. Not all of them are out to get you. In fact if he would put down his sword and shield he might find the majority of them are just trying to do a difficult job the best way they know how.

Interacting effectively with people is not only a skill; it is an art form that has to be mastered by anyone trying to run a business. There are many things to know about business. Understanding personal relationships and knowing how to negotiate is among the top items on the list.

Very few people are born with these skills, they have to be learned.

I asked him “What if you had the same ability in dealing with adjusters that you have in dealing with the cars? Where would you be?” He stopped dead in his tracks.

I continued, “You are a talented painter who only knows how to do the job one-way, the right way. You’re being upset with the adjuster is because you feel he is trying to get you to do the job in a lesser way—a way that will not satisfy you or the customer. You do not have the skill to get the adjuster to see it your way. This leaves you with limited choices of short-cutting, or accepting what is being offered which reduces your profit. Neither one of these is acceptable, nor should they be. You are going to do it the right way regardless.”

“Two things need to happen here and happen quickly or you will burn out and never achieve your goals. The first is you have got to learn how to recruit, hire and train the right people so that you can get back out of the paint booth and run your business. You are killing yourself trying to do both. You can get short fused when you have to stop what you are doing to handle the insurance adjusters. Don’t start the conversation with the adjuster with a negative attitude.

“The second thing is you have to learn is how to deal with people and negotiate in order to get what it is you need to do the job right and put money in your pocket.” His shoulders sagged and he said to me, “Where do we start?”

I am happy to report that this particular shop owner did not blow up his business and is now in a much better condition. He smiles more. He is well on the way to achieving his goals.

Collision shop owners are in the people handling business. If you are not achieving your goals, feeling fed up and frustrated, give Management Success a call—we can help.

Management Success!, is a company that specializes in training and consulting the independent automotive repair shop owner. Bob tours the country as an educational speaker and writes numerous columns. Additional articles on management can be read online at www.managementsuccess.com

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